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UAE Desert Challenge to decide outcome of FIA World Cup

UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge
2003 FIA and FIM World Cups, final round

For immediate release
Monday, September 8th, 2003

UAE DESERT CHALLENGE TO DECIDE
FIA WORLD CUP DRIVERS' SERIES

Sousa and Schlesser set for thrilling duel across the sands of the UAE

DUBAI (UAE): Next month's UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge will decide the outcome of the 2003 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies Drivers' Championship, following a dramatic Por Las Pampas Rally, the penultimate round of the series which finished in Cordoba, Argentina, on Friday afternoon (September 6th).

The five-day UAE event starts with a Prologue stage on Monday, October 20th and is the final round of both the FIA Cup and FIM World Cross Country Rallies World Cup for motorcycles. It is being held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander and Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Minister of Defence.

Frenchman Jean-Louis Schlesser has been embroiled in a season-long contest with the Portuguese driver Carlos Sousa in the FIA World Cup and the pair have fought for the championship lead since the Rally of Tunisia back in April.

Schlesser is a regular visitor to the UAE Desert Challenge and last won the event two years ago. He is the defending World Champion at the wheel of his two-wheel drive, Ford-engined Buggy. The former Grand Prix and World Sportscar racing star switched to cross-country rallying in the1990s and has been the man to beat in recent years. He took a surprise win in the Optic 2000 Rally of Tunisia and has been in contention for the title since then.

'Schless' won the Turkish Rallye d'Orient Cappadoce in August and won last week's event in Argentina, but his victory in Turkey is still subject to an FIA appeal after his actions were deemed 'unsportsmanlike' and were protested by Sousa's Mitsubishi Portugal team.

Sousa is the man who stands to gain most from the forthcoming FIA appeal. He won the Baja Portugal this season in his L200 Strakar and the non-championship Baja Greece, but sprang into championship contention when he followed South Africa's Giniel de Villiers to the finish in Morocco in June.

He began last week's Argentina event a mere four points behind Schlesser, the appeal notwithstanding, and heads for the sands of the UAE knowing that he must beat the Frenchman to take a maiden world title. He now trails the Frenchman by 16 points, with 45 on offer for the winner and 33 for the runner-up.

~The outcome of last year's FIA World Cup was decided before the UAE Desert Challenge,~ said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, chairman of the organising committee. ~But we are delighted that this year's championship will be decided in the UAE. Jean-Louis had already won the world title at this stage last season, but he is a good friend of the Desert Challenge and it will be great to see him competing here again and welcome Carlos Sousa for the first time.~

Sousa's cause will be helped by the presence of the official Mitsubishi Motors team, which is planning to send a full squad of drivers to prepare for the Dakar Rally in January.

This year's FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies began back in March with the three-day Baja Italy, which was won by Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka in a Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution. Schlesser triumphed against the odds in Tunisia, when Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel retired near the end in dramatic circumstances, while Sousa and BMW's Luc Alphand won the respective Baja races in Portugal and Spain.

Nissan's Giniel de Villiers won the gruelling race in Morocco and Schlesser returned to form with victory in Turkey - subject to the FIA appeal - leaving the way open for a dramatic head-to-head climax to the series on the UAE Desert Challenge next month.

Ends

For further information about this year's event, contact the Marlboro UAE Desert Challenge office, PO Box 1714, Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Tel: + 971 4 2669922 Fax: + 971 4 2666996 or E-mail: rallyuae@emirates.net.ae

For further media information: Neil Perkins, NDP Publicity Services, Tel: + (44) 1952 825078, Fax: + (44) 1952 825001 E-mail: NDPPublicity@compuserve.com

Date issued: 08/09/2003

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